, Land Line state legislative editor | Wednesday, September 13, 2017
Efforts to improve safety and deter delinquent behavior on Pennsylvania highways are getting attention at the statehouse.
One bill would authorize the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to erect fencing on certain state-owned bridges.
PennDOT already has guidelines in place for protective fence-railing. However, the rule applies only for limited circumstances that include where there is a bridge with a sidewalk over an interstate, railroad or other limited-access freeway.
The Senate Transportation Committee voted unanimously this spring to advance a bill to require protective fencing to be included on new bridges. The rule would also apply to existing interstate bridges when a major renovation is needed.
Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, has cited a July 2014 incident along Interstate 80 in Union County for the need for protective fencing. Sharon Budd of Uniontown, Ohio, was a passenger in a car when a rock was tossed from the Gray Hill Road overpass and smashed through the windshield of her vehicle and struck her in the face. Budd survived the incident, but, she sustained significant, lasting injuries.
Yaw previously noted the rock also struck a tractor-trailer. He added that the overpass did not meet the state DOT’s criteria for protective fencing.
According to reports, four teenagers were convicted of crimes related to their roles in the rock throwing.
Yaw pointed out that the Ohio Department of Transportation has adopted a similar rule.
The Pennsylvania DOT estimated that adding fencing to the state’s overpasses would cost $200 million. The agency has already added protective fencing on more than 50 bridges. However, there is no requirement in state law for PennDOT to act.
The bill, SB564, to mandate protective fencing awaits consideration this fall in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
A separate bill covers incidents when a person throws an object at occupied vehicles.
Currently, anyone found guilty of throwing rocks and other dangerous objects at vehicles face misdemeanor charges.
HB1485 would increase the penalty for such actions to a felony.
“The current misdemeanor grading does not sufficiently take into account the severity of the behavior or the risk of death or serious bodily injury involved,” Rep. Matt Baker, R-Tioga, wrote in a memo to lawmakers. “My legislation will make it a felony of the third degree.”
Baker referred to a recent incident in his district where two men near a construction zone threw rocks and steel rebar at passing vehicles. He said at least six vehicles were significantly damaged.
He also mentioned an incident in Bucks County a year ago where bricks and rocks were thrown from an overpass. One driver was injured and three large trucks were extensively damaged.
“Between the danger to the driver from the object itself going through the windshield, and the likelihood of causing an accident, it isn’t difficult to imagine how a ‘prank’ like this could become deadly very quickly.”
The bill, HB1485, is in the House Judiciary Committee.
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